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Chapter 26

It was a pleasure to feel one's self in Provence
again, - the land where the silver-gray earth is im-
pregnated with the light of the sky. To celebrate
the event, as soon as I arrived at Nimes I engaged
a caleche to convey me to the Pont du Gard. The
day was yet young, and it was perfectly fair; it ap-
peared well, for a longish drive, to take advantage,
without delay, of such security. After I had left the
town I became more intimate with that Provencal
charm which I had already enjoyed from the window
of the train, and which glowed in the sweet sunshine
and the white rocks, and lurked in the smoke-puffs
of the little olives. The olive-trees in Provence are
half the landscape. They are neither so tall, so stout,
nor so richly contorted as I have seen them beyond
the Alps; but this mild colorless bloom seems the
very texture of the country. The road from Nimes,
for a distance of fifteen miles, is superb; broad enough
for an army, and as white and firm as a dinner-table.
It stretches away over undulations which suggest a
kind of harmony; and in the curves it makes through
the wide, free country, where there is never a hedge
or a wall, and the detail is always exquisite, there is
something majestic, almost processional. Some twenty
minutes before I reached the little inn that marks the
termination of the drive, my vehicle met with an ac-
cident which just missed being serious, and which
engaged the attention of a gentleman, who, followed
by his groom and mounted on a strikingly handsome
horse happened to ride up at the moment. This young
man, who, with his good looks and charming manner,
might have stepped out of a novel of Octave Feuillet,
gave me some very intelligent advice in reference to
one of my horses that had been injured, and was so
good as to accompany me to the inn, with the re-
sources of which he was acquainted, to see that his
recommendations were carried out. The result of our
interview was that he invited me to come and look at
a small but ancient chateau in the neighborhood,
which he had the happiness - not the greatest in the
world, he intimated - to inhabit, and at which I en-
gaged to present myself after I should have spent an
hour at the Pont du Gard. For the moment, when
we separated, I gave all my attention to that great
structure. You are very near it before you see it; the
ravine it spans suddenly opens and exhibits the
picture. The scene at this point grows extremely
beautiful. The ravine is the valley of the Gardon,
which the road from Nimes has followed some time
without taking account of it, but which, exactly at the
right distance from the aqueduct, deepens and ex-
pands, and puts on those characteristics which are best
suited to give it effect. The gorge becomes romantic,
still, and solitary, and, with its white rocks and wild
shrubbery, hangs over the clear, colored river, in whose
slow course there is here and there a deeper pool.
Over the valley, from side to side, and ever so high
in the air, stretch the three tiers of the tremendous
bridge. They are unspeakably imposing, and nothing
could well be more Roman. The hugeness, the soli-
dity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of
the whole thing leave you nothing to say - at the time
- and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that
it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of
greatness. A road, branching from the highway, de-
scends to the level of the river and passes under one
of the arches. This road has a wide margin of grass
and loose stones, which slopes upward into the bank
of the ravine. You may sit here as long as you please,
staring up at the light, strong piers; the spot is ex-
tremely natural, though two or three stone benches
have been erected on it. I remained there an hour
and got a cornplete impression; the place was per-
fectly soundless, and for the time, at least, lonely;
the splendid afternoon had begun to fade, and there
was a fascination in the object I had come to see. It
came to pass that at the same time I discovered in it
a certain stupidity, a vague brutality. That element
is rarely absent from great Roman work, which is
wanting in the nice adaptation of the means to the
end. The means are always exaggerated; the end is
so much more than attained. The Roman rigidity
was apt to overshoot the mark, and I suppose a race
which could do nothing small is as defective as a race
that can do nothing great. Of this Roman rigidity
the Pont du Gard is an admirable example. It would
be a great injustice, however, not to insist upon its
beauty, - a kind of manly beauty, that of an object
constructed not to please but to serve, and impressive
simply from the scale on which it carries out this
intention. The number of arches in each tier is dif-
ferent; they are smaller and more numerous as they
ascend. The preservation of the thing is extra-
ordinary; nothing has crumbled or collapsed; every
feature remains; and the huge blocks of stone, of a
brownish-yellow, (as if they had been baked by the
Provencal sun for eighteen centuries), pile themselves,
without mortar or cement, as evenly as the day they
were laid together. All this to carry the water of a
couple of springs to a little provincial city! The con-
duit on the top has retained its shape and traces of
the cement with which it was lined. When the vague
twilight began to gather, the lonely valley seemed to
fill itself with the shadow of the Roman name, as if
the mighty empire were still as erect as the supports
of the aqueduct; and it was open to a solitary tourist,
sitting there sentimental, to believe that no people has
ever been, or will ever be, as great as that, measured,
as we measure the greatness of an individual, by the
push they gave to what they undertook. The Pont du
Gard is one of the three or four deepest impressions
they have left; it speaks of them in a manner with
which they might have been satisfied.

I feel as if it were scarcely discreet to indicate the
whereabouts of the chateau of the obliging young
man I had met on the way from Nimes; I must con-
tent myself with saying that it nestled in an en-
chanting valley, - _dans le fond_, as they say in France,
- and that I took my course thither on foot, after
leaving the Pont du Gard. I find it noted in my
journal as "an adorable little corner." The principal

feature of the place is a couple of very ancient towers,
brownish-yellow in hue, and mantled in scarlet Vir-
ginia-creeper. One of these towers, reputed to be
of Saracenic origin, is isolated, and is only the more
effective; the other is incorporated in the house,
which is delightfully fragmentary and irregular. It
had got to be late by this time, and the lonely _castel_
looked crepuscular and mysterious. An old house-
keeper was sent for, who showed me the rambling
interior; and then the young man took me into a
dim old drawing-room, which had no less than four
chimney-pieces, all unlighted, and gave me a refec-
tion of fruit and sweet wine. When I praised the
wine and asked him what it was, he said simply,
"C'est du vin de ma mere!" Throughout my little
joumey I had never yet felt myself so far from Paris;
and this was a sensation I enjoyed more than my
host, who was an involuntary exile, consoling him-
self with laying out a _manege_, which he showed me
as I walked away. His civility was great, and I was
greatly touched by it. On my way back to the little
inn where I had left my vehicle, I passed the Pont
du Gard, and took another look at it. Its great arches
made windows for the evening sky, and the rocky
ravine, with its dusky cedars and shining river, was
lonelier than before. At the inn I swallowed, or tried
to swallow,a glass of horrible wine with my coach-
man; after which, with my reconstructed team, I drove
back to Nimes in the moonlight. It only added a
more solitary whiteness to the constant sheen of the
Provencal landscape.

Henry James